A runway show is by no means the only way to promote a collection.
For L.A. designers Stephanie Danan and Justin Kern, short films have been the key to success for their fledgling women's label Co, capturing the attention of their very first store buyers from Barneys New York and Browns in London and drawing shoppers to their website, co-collections.com.
Since launching the label in 2011, Danan, a former producer, and Kern, a screenwriter, have created four short films featuring characters in their dressed-up classics. They've enlisted several high-profile friends, including Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter; "The Kids Are All Right" co-screenwriter Stuart Blumberg; actresses Élodie Bouchez, Aubrey Plaza and Marisa Tomei; and artist Konstantin Kakanias.
Unlike many fashion films, which are little more than dressed-up commercials, Co's films have narrative storylines and an indie spirit. They're shot in a matter of days, at houses borrowed from friends or on the streets "with the actors changing in the bushes," Danan says.
Their latest, "She Said, She Said," featuring the fall 2013 collection, has received more than half a million hits since it came out in March, Kern says. That's probably because the lesbian divorce comedy, with Tomei and Bouchez duking it out over custody of their dog, their Mercedes and other trappings of their failed relationship, is just plain funny.
"The only direction we give the directors we work with is 'Don't pay attention to the clothes,'" says Danan. "It's all about the characters and story. If people relate to that, the clothes will come through."
Danan and Kern, who are personal as well as professional partners, met five years ago. He was a former model and assistant to photographer Mario Testino who came to L.A. to get into film. She was a development executive in a deal with Focus Features and Universal Studios who grew up in the world of fashion. (Danan's mother was an accessories designer, and her father the owner of a multilabel showroom.)
The couple started developing film projects together, and while waiting for projects to be greenlighted they designed a small collection of clothing and had it produced in the same Hong Kong factory Danan's mother used in the 1980s.
Instead of having a runway show to introduce the line, they decided to do what they knew and made a short film. Style.com picked that up and within an hour of the film posting online, Barneys and Browns came calling. Now the designers have more than 50 retail accounts, including Just One Eye and A'Maree's in Southern California.
The spring 2014 collection they presented in their showroom last week included a black satin slip dress with volume through the back, a strapless white cotton poplin dress with angled front pockets, a black blazer with short pouf sleeves paired with cuffed black culottes, and a black poplin T-shirt bursting with black roses, paired with a full skirt.
Prices range from $375 to $695 for most items, with furs going up to $3,500.
They didn't make a film for the spring 2014 collection "because we made a baby," says Danan, who gave birth to their son Jacob 11 weeks ago. But they are eager to get back in action. "We're exploring more of an episodic perspective, with recurring characters. We're also looking into e-commerce possibilities," says Kern, citing a new video platform from a company called Cinematique that allows viewers to touch the product they want and put it in the online shopping bag, without interrupting the viewing process.
That could add a whole new dimension to fashion films.